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2012 Dodge Charger SXT RWD Plus Ride and Review By Steve Purdy

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A Mighty Macho Machine
By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

The politics surrounding just the existence of Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep are complex. Only the future will tell, I suppose, whether our investment - financial and philosophical – has been worth it. Two things I’m certain of, though. First: I’m damn glad that they are alive and well, making impressive products. Second: they have the talented and intuitive, Ralph Gilles, leading design.

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We have a shining example of great design in our driveway this week, the fresh-for-2011 full-size, rear-wheel drive, Dodge Charger SXT Plus, all dressed up in urban chic sporting the amazingly competent standard V6 with 8-speed transmission. At a tad over 38 grand it’s competitive, in its own way, with the European and Asian sport sedans in its own segment, and a few higher priced ones as well. Truly excellent design usually inspires polarization. The Charger is a one of those, with its brash, masculine styling language. The design speaks to me. It does nothing for my pretty wife.

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Let’s look her over. Initial impressions are important and this one makes speaks up for itself. The 20-inch, shinny black wheels with low-profile (245/45R20) tires announce themselves first. Next we see the dramatic profile with vertical front and rear fascia, aggressive black grille punctuated with the Dodge crosshairs, sculpted hood and sides, shallow greenhouse and jauntily bobbed tail. This unusual profile broke new ground when Gilles and his team designed it for the Chrysler 300 one generation past. Slick LED lights surround the full-width taillights and chrome-tipped dual exhaust outlets peek out from the lower rear fascia.

Inside we find simple designs with modest materials and trim. We see many parts and pieces shared with Chrysler 300 and other corporate products. I’ll bet the entire dash has less than a third the number of parts of the Hyundai we reviewed last week. While it doesn’t really feel cheap, it makes no pretense to luxury or uber-sophistication. It does a fine job of projecting simplicity and competence with just a hint of retro.

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On the down side our test car has the large, in-dash navigation and control screen, which I found to be cumbersome, frustrating and unattractive. The map (a Garman product) images lacked detail and appeared cartoonesque while jumping in and out erratically. It was difficult to change the map orientation, control screen brightness and just find my way around. The on-screen controls for the car’s functions were a bit easier to manage but still, it seem to me, superfluous. I expect if I were a generation or three younger I might find these systems more intuitive and useful. It’s just that some are more manageable (for me) than others. This is one of the others.

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Now, the driving experience is entirely to my liking. Part of that experience, of course, is the visual stimulation we get from a car. Every time I approach it in the parking lot or my driveway I have to look it over again, as if it were a pretty woman, soaking in it’s aggressively good looks. The “Blacktop” trim package takes this already-distinctive design and takes it a full level more metro-sexy. Rear-wheel drive and a well-calibrated suspension that errs on the side sport, plus an eager standard powertrain, makes for fun behind the wheel whenever you want it. If you just like to dawdle along it will do so very comfortably, too, but what’s the point.

We had no trouble managing any of the mechanical controls. It was just the screen-based ones that caused annoyance. Everything else inside seemed right where it ought to be and do just what was intended. My passengers this week and I all commented on the unexpected quietness of the cabin. The serenity we experienced in the Charger could match a car twice its price. The firm leather seats with decent bolstering and contrasting stitching fit me well causing no road fatigue on my usual one-hour drives. A back seat passenger this week thought it very roomy and comfortable back there. The rear seatbacks fold easily for limited access to the trunk.

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Under the shapely hood is Chrysler’s new, normally-aspirated, 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with variable valve timing and direct injection. Nearly 300 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque provide all the power we need. We may “want” more power, but we really don’t “need” any more, I can hear my mother say. If you need more, just add one of the available Hemi’s. With this smooth, well-managed, 8-speed automatic transmission the Charger is rated by the EPA at 19-mpg in the city and 31 on the highway using regular fuel. That’s best-in-class for the full-sized sedan segment. We managed 25 with our first tank of gas this week and that was about 80% highway driving. We could not find an ongoing mileage meter among the car’s computer functions. I expect one resides in there somewhere, but I couldn’t find it.

An electric shifter manages this new 8-speed transmission. I found it a bit awkward. Even with the paddle shifters, I would much prefer a conventional, cable-based shifter on the console.

Base price on our SXT Plus is $28,495 but with a load of options our bottom line shows $38,170. The $2,000 SXT option includes Napa leather, security alarm, heated rear seats, heated and cooled cup holders, power front seats, lots of LED lighting inside and 18-inch chrome aluminum wheels with low-profile all-season tires. The $1,695 Blacktop Package includes, 552-Watt amplifier, Beats Audio group, paddle shifters, sport leather seats, 20-inch, black wheels and low profile performance tires, special black grille and performance suspension. The $1,495 Driver Convenience Package adds blind spot warning with cross path detection, park assist, back up camera, rain sensing wipers, smart headlamps, automatic headlight dimmer. More packages add adaptive cruise control, ventilated seats, power adjustable heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, forward collision warning, navigation system, Sirius satellite radio with one year subscription and more. This think is really loaded. With the $925 destination charge the sticker shows $38,170 on the bottom line.

The Dodge new car warranty covers the whole car for a minimal 3 years or 36,000 miles and a generous 5 years and 100,000 miles on the powertrain. U.S. and Canadian content is 63% with 15% coming from Mexico. The Charger is assembled in the Brampton, Ontario plant.

As one who drives and evaluates slightly more than a car per week, I can say without equivocation this loaded, dressed up, Charger is one that would be at or near the top of my shopping list were I looking for a new full-size sedan. My pretty wife, on the other hand, finds it much too macho for her tastes.

So, there’s just one more thing polarizing us. She likes mild, I like hot. She likes subdued. I like colorful. She likes TV at bedtime. I like a book. She likes her little SLK. I like this cool Charger.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved